East Lynne/Chapter 5

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
East Lynne by Ellen Wood
Chapter 5

In the centre of West Lynne stood two houses adjoining each other, one large, the other much smaller. The large one was the Carlyle residence, and the small one was devoted to the Carlyle offices. The name of Carlyle bore a lofty standing in the county; Carlyle and Davidson were known as first-class practitioners; no pettifogging lawyers were they. It was Carlyle & Davidson in the days gone by; now it was Archibald Carlyle. The old firm were brothers-in-law—the first Mrs. Carlyle having been Mr. Davidson's sister. She had died and left one child. The second Mrs. Carlyle died when her son was born—Archibald; and his half-sister reared him, loved him and ruled him. She bore for him all the authority of a mother; the boy had known no other, and, when a little child he had called her Mamma Corny. Mamma Corny had done her duty by him, that was undoubted; but Mamma Corny had never relaxed her rule; with an iron hand she liked to rule him now, in great things as in small, just as she had done in the days of his babyhood. And Archibald generally submitted, for the force of habit is strong. She was a woman of strong sense, but, in some things, weak of judgment; and the ruling passions of her life were love of Archibald and love of saving money. Mr. Davidson had died earlier than Mr. Carlyle, and his fortune—he had never married—was left equally divided between Cornelia and Archibald. Archibald was no blood relation to him, but he loved the open-hearted boy better than his niece Cornelia. Of Mr. Carlyle's property, a small portion only was bequeathed to his daughter, the rest to his son; and in this, perhaps there was justice, since the 20,000 pounds brought to Mr. Carlyle by his second wife had been chiefly instrumental in the accumulation of his large fortune.

Miss Carlyle, or, as she was called in town, Miss Corny, had never married; it was pretty certain she never would; people thought that her intense love of her young brother kept her single, for it was not likely that the daughter of the rich Mr. Carlyle had wanted for offers. Other maidens confess to soft and tender impressions. Not so Miss Carlyle. All who had approached her with the lovelorn tale, she sent quickly to the right-about.

Mr. Carlyle was seated in his own private room in his office the morning after his return from town. His confidential clerk and manager stood near him. It was Mr. Dill, a little, meek-looking man with a bald head. He was on the rolls, had been admitted years and years ago, but he had never set up for himself; perhaps he deemed the post of head manager in the office of Carlyle & Davidson, with its substantial salary, sufficient for his ambition; and manager he had been to them when the present Mr. Carlyle was in long petticoats. He was a single man, and occupied handsome apartments near.

Between the room of Mr. Carlyle and that of the clerks, was a small square space or hall, having ingress also from the house passage; another room opened from it, a narrow one, which was Mr. Dill's own peculiar sanctum. Here he saw clients when Mr. Carlyle was out or engaged, and here he issued private orders. A little window, not larger than a pane of glass, looked out from the clerk's office; they called it old Dill's peep-hole and wished it anywhere else, for his spectacles might be discerned at it more frequently than was agreeable. The old gentleman had a desk, also, in their office, and there he frequently sat. He was sitting there, in state, this same morning, keeping a sharp lookout around him, when the door timidly opened, and the pretty face of Barbara Hare appeared at it, rosy with blushes.

"Can I see Mr. Carlyle?"

Mr. Dill rose from his seat and shook hands with her. She drew him into the passage and he closed the door. Perhaps he felt surprised, for it was not the custom for ladies, young and single, to come there after Mr. Carlyle.

"Presently, Miss Barbara. He is engaged just now. The justices are with him."

"The justices!" uttered Barbara, in alarm; "and papa one? Whatever shall I do? He must not see me. I would not have him see me here for the world."

An ominous sound of talking; the justices were evidently coming forth. Mr. Dill laid hold of Barbara, whisked her through the clerks' room, not daring to take her the other way, lest he should encounter them, and shut her in his own. "What the plague brought papa here at this moment?" thought Barbara, whose face was crimson.

A few minutes and Mr. Dill opened the door again. "They are gone now, and the coast's clear, Miss Barbara."

"I don't know what opinion you must form of me, Mr. Dill," she whispered, "but I will tell you, in confidence, that I am here on some private business for mamma, who was not well enough to come herself. It is a little private matter that she does not wish papa to know of."

"Child," answered the manager, "a lawyer receives visits from many people; and it is not the place of those about him to 'think.'"

He opened the door as he spoke, ushered her into the presence of Mr. Carlyle, and left her. The latter rose in astonishment.

"You must regard me as a client, and pardon my intrusion," said Barbara, with a forced laugh, to hide her agitation. "I am here on the part of mamma—and I nearly met papa in your passage, which terrified me out of my senses. Mr. Dill shut me into his room."

Mr. Carlyle motioned to Barbara to seat herself, then resumed his own seat, beside his table. Barbara could not help noticing how different his manners were in his office from his evening manners when he was "off duty." Here he was the staid, calm man of business.

"I have a strange thing to tell you," she began, in a whisper, "but—it is impossible that any one can hear us," she broke off, with a look of dread. "It would be—it might be—death!"

"It is quite impossible," calmly replied Mr. Carlyle. "The doors are double doors; did you notice that they were?"

Nevertheless, she left her chair and stood close to Mr. Carlyle, resting her hand upon the table. He rose, of course.

"Richard is here!"

"Richard!" repeated Mr. Carlyle. "At West Lynne!"

"He appeared at the house last night in disguise, and made signs to me from the grove of trees. You may imagine my alarm. He has been in London all this while, half starving, working—I feel ashamed to mention it to you—in a stable-yard. And, oh, Archibald! He says he is innocent."

Mr. Carlyle made no reply to this. He probably had no faith in the assertion. "Sit down, Barbara," he said drawing her chair closer.

Barbara sat down again, but her manner was hurried and nervous. "Is it quite sure that no stranger will be coming in? It would look so peculiar to see me here; but mamma was too unwell to come herself—or rather, she feared papa's questioning, if he found out that she came."

"Be at ease," replied Mr. Carlyle; "this room is sacred from the intrusion of strangers. What of Richard?"

"He says that he was not in the cottage at the time the murder was committed; that the person who really did it was a man of the name of Thorn."

"What Thorn?" asked Mr. Carlyle, suppressing all signs of incredulity.

"I don't know; a friend of Afy's, he said. Archibald, he swore to it in the most solemn manner; and I believe, as truly as that I am now repeating it to you, that he was speaking the truth. I want you to see Richard, if possible; he is coming to the same place to-night. If he can tell his own tale to you, perhaps you may find out a way by which his innocence may be made manifest. You are so clever, you can do anything."

Mr. Carlyle smiled. "Not quite anything, Barbara. Was this the purport of Richard's visit—to say this?"

"Oh, no! He thinks it is of no use to say it, for nobody would believe him against the evidence. He came to ask for a hundred pounds; he says he has an opportunity of doing better, if he can have that sum. Mamma has sent me to you; she has not the money by her, and she dare not ask papa for it, as it is for Richard. She bade me say that if you will kindly oblige her with the money to-day, she will arrange with you about the repayment."

"Do you want it now?" asked Mr. Carlyle. "If so, I must send to the bank. Dill never keeps much money in the house when I'm away."

"Not until evening. Can you manage to see Richard?"

"It is hazardous," mused Mr. Carlyle; "for him, I mean. Still, if he is to be in the grove to-night, I may as well be there also. What disguise is he in?"

"A farm laborer's, the best he could adopt about here, with large black whiskers. He is stopping about three miles off, he said, in some obscure hiding-place. And now," continued Barbara, "I want you to advise me; had I better inform mamma that Richard is here, or not?"

Mr. Carlyle did not understand, and said so.

"I declare I am bewildered," she exclaimed. "I should have premised that I have not yet told mamma it is Richard himself who is here, but that he has sent a messenger to beg for this money. Would it be advisable to acquaint her?"

"Why should you not? I think you ought to do so."

"Then I will; I was fearing the hazard for she is sure to insist upon seeing him. Richard also wishes for an interview."

"It is only natural. Mrs. Hare must be thankful to hear so far, that he is safe."

"I never saw anything like it," returned Barbara; "the change is akin to magic; she says it has put life into her anew. And now for the last thing; how can we secure papa's absence from home to-night? It must be accomplished in some way. You know his temper: were I or mamma to suggest to him, to go and see some friend, or to go to the club, he would immediately stop at home. Can you devise any plan? You see I appeal to you in all my troubles," she added, "like I and Anne used to do when we were children."

It may be questioned if Mr. Carlyle heard the last remark. He had dropped his eyelids in thought. "Have you told me all?" he asked presently, lifting them.

"I think so."

"Then I will consider it over, and—"

"I shall not like to come here again," interrupted Barbara. "It—it might excite suspicions; some one might see me, too, and mention it to papa. Neither ought you to send to our house."

"Well—contrive to be in the street at four this afternoon. Stay, that's your dinner hour; be walking up the street at three, three precisely; I will meet you."

He rose, shook hands, and escorted Barbara through the small hall, along the passage to the house door; a courtesy probably not yet shown to any client by Mr. Carlyle. The house door closed upon her, and Barbara had taken one step from it, when something large loomed down upon her, like a ship in full sail.

She must have been the tallest lady in the world—out of a caravan. A fine woman in her day, but angular and bony now. Still, in spite of the angles and the bones, there was majesty in the appearance of Miss Carlyle.

"Why—what on earth!" began she, "have you been with Archibald for?"

Barbara Hare, wishing Miss Carlyle over in Asia, stammered out the excuse she had given Mr. Dill.

"Your mamma sent you on business! I never heard of such a thing. Twice I have been to see Archibald, and twice did Dill answer that he was engaged and must not be interrupted. I shall make old Dill explain his meaning for observing a mystery over it to me."

"There is no mystery," answered Barbara, feeling quite sick lest Miss Carlyle should proclaim there was, before the clerks, or her father. "Mamma wanted Mr. Carlyle's opinion upon a little private business, and not feeling well enough to come herself, she sent me."

Miss Carlyle did not believe a word. "What business?" asked she unceremoniously.

"It is nothing that could interest you. A trifling matter, relating to a little money. It's nothing, indeed."

"Then, if it's nothing, why were you closeted so long with Archibald?"

"He was asking the particulars," replied Barbara, recovering her equanimity.

Miss Carlyle sniffed, as she invariably did, when dissenting from a problem. She was sure there was some mystery astir. She turned and walked down the street with Barbara, but she was none the more likely to get anything out of her.

Mr. Carlyle returned to his room, deliberated a few moments, and then rang his bell. A clerk answered it.

"Go to the Buck's Head. If Mr. Hare and the other magistrates are there, ask them to step over to me."

The young man did as he was bid, and came back with the noted justices at his heels. They obeyed the summons with alacrity, for they believed they had got themselves into a judicial scrape, and that Mr. Carlyle alone could get them out of it.

"I will not request you to sit down," began Mr. Carlyle, "for it is barely a moment I shall detain you. The more I think about this man's having been put in prison, the less I like it; and I have been considering that you had better all five, come and smoke your pipes at my house this evening, when we shall have time to discuss what must be done. Come at seven, not later, and you will find my father's old jar replenished with the best broadcut, and half a dozen churchwarden pipes. Shall it be so?"

The whole five accepted the invitation eagerly. And they were filing out when Mr. Carlyle laid his finger on the arm of Justice Hare.

"You will be sure to come, Hare," he whispered. "We could not get on without you; all heads," with a slight inclination towards those going out, "are not gifted with the clear good sense of yours."

"Sure and certain," responded the gratified justice; "fire and water shouldn't keep me away."

Soon after Mr. Carlyle was left alone another clerk entered.

"Miss Carlyle is asking to see you, sir, and Colonel Bethel's come again."

"Send in Miss Carlyle first," was the answer. "What is it, Cornelia?"

"Ah! You may well ask what? Saying this morning that you could not dine at six, as usual, and then marching off, and never fixing the hour. How can I give my orders?"

"I thought business would have called me out, but I am not going now. We will dine a little earlier, though, Cornelia, say a quarter before six. I have invited—"

"What's up, Archibald?" interrupted Miss Carlyle.

"Up! Nothing that I know of. I am very busy, Cornelia, and Colonel Bethel is waiting; I will talk to you at dinner-time. I have invited a party for to-night."

"A party!" echoed Miss Carlyle.

"Four or five of the justices are coming in to smoke their pipes. You must put out your father's leaden tobacco-box, and—"

"They shan't come!" screamed Miss Carlyle. "Do you think I'll be poisoned with tobacco smoke from a dozen pipes?"

"You need not sit in the room."

"Nor they either. Clean curtains are just put up throughout the house, and I'll have no horrid pipes to blacken them."

"I'll buy you some new curtains, Cornelia, if their pipes spoil these," he quietly replied. "And now, Cornelia, I really must beg you to leave me."

"When I have come to the bottom of this affair with Barbara Hare," resolutely returned Miss Corny, dropping the point of the contest as to the pipes. "You are very clever, Archie, but you can't do me. I asked Barbara what she came here for; business for mamma, touching money matters, was her reply. I ask you: to hear your opinion about the scrape the bench have got into, is yours. Now, it's neither one nor the other; and I tell you, Archibald, I'll hear what it is. I should like to know what you and Barbara do with a secret between you."

Mr. Carlyle knew her and her resolute expression well, and he took his course, to tell her the truth. She was, to borrow the words Barbara had used to her brother with regard to him, true as steel. Confide to Miss Carlyle a secret, and she was trustworthy and impervious as he could be; but let her come to suspect that there was a secret which was being kept from her, and she would set to work like a ferret, and never stop until it was unearthed.

Mr. Carlyle bent forward and spoke in a whisper. "I will tell you, if you wish, Cornelia, but it is not a pleasant thing to hear. Richard Hare has returned."

Miss Carlyle looked perfectly aghast. "Richard Hare! Is he mad?"

"It is not a very sane proceeding. He wants money from his mother, and Mrs. Hare sent Barbara to ask me to manage it for her. No wonder poor Barbara was flurried and nervous, for there's danger on all sides."

"Is he at their house?"

"How could he be there and his father in it? He is in hiding two or three miles off, disguised as a laborer, and will be at the grove to-night to receive this money. I have invited the justices to get Mr. Hare safe away from his own house. If he saw Richard, he would undoubtedly give him up to justice, and—putting graver considerations aside—that would be pleasant for neither you nor for me. To have a connection gibbeted for a willful murder would be an ugly blot on the Carlyle escutcheon, Cornelia."

Miss Carlyle sat in silence revolving the news, a contraction on her ample brow.

"And now you know all, Cornelia, and I do beg you to leave me, for I am overwhelmed with work to-day."